Interview: Nutrition at it's Best
SPORT SCIENCE COLLECTIVE is produced by different people from various aspects of sport and performance. The contributors put a lot of effort into their work and there is always something to learn. Simone do Carmo is an interesting individual from whom we can glean much knowledge. The interview is a bit longer than is normal, but because Simone is this interesting individual, she’s definitely worth the extra word count.
Please tell us a bit about your background? Where and what did you study?
SdC: Until the age of nine, I lived in SA, then moved to Portugal until I graduated from high school. I then took a gap year, spent some time on a combined medical and sports placement in Knysna, and then moved to Scotland where I did a five-year, integrated Master’s degree in Physiology, Sport Science and Nutrition at the University of Glasgow. The first three years focused on physiology and sports science, with additional modules in other life sciences such as anatomy, immunology, pharmacology, etc. My fourth year was spent at ESSM/SSISA in Cape Town where I did research in performance nutrition and podiatric biomechanics, and my fifth year back in Glasgow was mostly hospital-based, researching the effects of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise on appetite regulation in overweight women.
You have travelled a fair bit and have lived in a few places, please tell us a bit about your travels and if/how they influenced your interest in sport?
SdC: In SA, the emphasis is on school sport and that’s exactly where my passion for sport started. I tried everything from netball to tennis and swimming, but found athletics most enjoyable. When I moved to Portugal, school sport was practically non-existent, so I had to find an outside club to continue with athletics. At the age of 12, I was provincial champion for high jump and competed in sprints at national level. After a year or so, I decided to give futsal (5-a-side indoor football) a try. I played futsal until I finished high school, captaining the local junior team in my last year. When I went to Scotland for university, futsal wasn’t an option, so I decided to go back to athletics. I did this for three years, focusing mainly on the 400m, and captained the University team to victory in the Scottish University & College Indoor and Outdoor Championships in my third year. During my year-abroad in Cape Town, I decided to try something new and discovered CrossFit, which has taught me a lot about mental strength. Since moving back to the UK, I’ve continued with CrossFit, qualified as a coach, taken part in a few team competitions, and also given powerlifting a try as strength is my best sporting quality.
Where do you find yourself in the world currently, and what does that role entail?
SdC: I’m now a graduate registrant on the UK Sports and Nutrition Register (SENr) based in Manchester, so I’ve started my own nutrition business called Personal Best Nutrition. The focus is on performance nutrition and nutrition for health & well-being, and I provide consultancy, dietary analysis, personalised nutrition plans and anthropometric profiling services. I also run a beginner strength and functional fitness programme for women who want to start lifting.
What are your main areas of interest in sport and performance?
SdC: I’m particularly interested in how nutrition can help athletes achieve their performance goals while maintaining long-term, whole-body health, as this is an often-overlooked aspect in the haste to produce results. Maintaining the balance between the two can be hard. Weight-restricted athletes can struggle with chronic, long-term health issues later in life, for example, and the safety of certain supplements really needs to be addressed. I recently became an accredited advisor for UK Anti-Doping, specifically to learn more about this area. Performance nutrition is a very dynamic field, with no black-or-white answers, and generally involves experimentation with each individual athlete. It’s the process of experimentation that most excites me. Once an athlete finds a nutritional approach that works and helps them achieve their goals, it’s a rewarding feeling knowing that I’ve contributed to this by using an evidence-based and safe approach for their long-term health.
Which sports have you predominately worked with?
SdC: Mainly power- and strength-based sports, especially with sprinters, powerlifters and weightlifters providing supplementation advice, nutritional strategies to aid recovery, and helping them achieve and maintain a certain weight.
What is your personal view on the role a sport scientist should play within the context of a sports team?
SdC: As a sport scientist appreciates the physiological, nutritional and psychological demands of a sport, their role should be to identify weaknesses in individual and team performance and investigate ways to improve using an evidence-based approach. Implementing interventions to improve performance requires a methodological process that involves measuring, monitoring and analysing data. The sport scientist should work closely with the coach and athletes. Open communication, stripped of all unnecessary jargon, is essential for this purpose. There should also be close involvement with other support personnel such as strength and conditioning coaches and sport nutritionists, adopting a multi-disciplinary approach with proper information-sharing.
As a sport nutritionist, my role within a team context is to improve athletes’ health and performance through nutrition coaching, using an evidence-based approach while also taking into account each individual athlete and identifying their food tolerances and preferences. This is particularly important for compliance. If an athlete is given a nutritional intervention that he or she does not like, it is unlikely to be successful.
Are there any fundamental aspects from Europe that sport scientists in SA could learn from?
SdC: I think the main thing that stands out for me is the lack of recognition and support for sport scientists in SA. In Europe, there are national bodies that accredit sport and exercise scientists, such as BASES and SENr in the UK. Accreditation is essential, in my view, as professional competency is enabled through the setting of clear professional and ethical standards. Accreditation also promotes the recognition and quality of sport science delivery. National bodies help to support continuing professional development, ensuring that sport scientists, nutritionists and psychologists are up-to-date with the latest science and improving standards of practice through the development of knowledge and skills. During my time in SA, I also found there is also some confusion among the public about the precise role of biokineticists and sport scientists, so I think SA could benefit a lot from following in the UK’s footsteps.
Theoretically: If you were given free rein to do as you wish within the context of sport science in South Africa, what would you try to implement to promote, progress, and protect the field?
SdC: This follows from what I say above…I would probably first bring together a group of leading sport scientists, set up a national body, develop an accreditation system, and have proper registers for sport physiologists, nutritionists, psychologists, etc., so the public know who to approach. I would also make sure that a far clearer distinction is drawn between the work of a sport scientist and biokineticist, along the current lines of sport physiology and clinical exercise physiology in other countries, with top-up conversion degrees for someone wanting to qualify in both areas. I would like to see organised work placement opportunities, in both research and practice, and set a minimum number of hours as a requirement for all degrees. I would lastly encourage more volunteering as there are so many grass-roots programmes that could be run by students on this basis. There would be better continuity, talent-spotting and results if these programmes were staffed by home-based sport science students.
Is there any advice you would give to those considering or working towards a sport science qualification or a qualification in one of your fields?
SdC: Read, read, read. It is important to understand the human body and the specific demands of different sports on it. This forms the foundation of everything you do. Immerse yourself in research papers and really understand the methodology behind them. Learn how to be critical, spot shortcomings, and think how you would redesign a study, given the chance. Participate in research projects too as it’s a practical learning opportunity. It’s good to know what a muscle biopsy actually feels like, for example. This will also give you an idea of how to structure your own research projects, the importance and different ways of collecting and analysing data, and other key issues surrounding research in sport and exercise. Finally, experience in the field is a must. It not only improves job prospects but is a way to develop your own skills and competences by seeing exactly how research is applied in practice. Be pro-active, ask to get involved, and create your own opportunities. If you enjoy writing, submit a pitch for an article to be a guest contributor here at SSC. Use social media effectively. You have to continually think outside the box. Nobody is going to do it for you.